© 2016 Your company


St. George's Church, Permogorye, Russia — 1665
Photograph by Richard Davies


J. Mitchell Johnson - Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Writer and Editor

Bob Elfstrom - Additional Cinematography

Paul Foss - Original Music

Mark Gunderson & Daphne Perry - Executive Producers

Dennis Bishop, Jonathan Sanders & Denis Luzanov - Consulting Producers

Denis Luzanov - Additional Editing

Main Characters

Richard Davies, British architectural photographer and co-author of "Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North"; architect Alexander Vladimirovich Popov, restorer of wooden churches and monuments in the Russian North and founder of the Kirillov-based Restoration Center for Architecture, Manufacture and Training; Father Alexei Yakolev, founder of Moscow-based Obshee Delo to support the revival of wooden temples of the Russian North

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected], www.abamedia.com; +1 817-336-0777

Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia
A film by J. Mitchell Johnson


"SAVING NORTH: Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia" is the story of a struggle for human and cultural survival in the insular world of the Russian North. An outsider from England, architectural photographer Richard Davies, enters this mysterious and vast region of the world with the hope of documenting both the glory and the tragic demise of its rapidly disappearing wooden churches. As Davies meets and becomes friends with some of his Russian photo subjects who strive to save these churches, he finds himself getting emotionally involved with their struggle. Finally, he decides to put down his camera and help with the restoration of a bell tower in a tiny village on the river Onega.

Early on in our story Davies befriends the famed Russian architect Alexander Popov, who is deeply involved in working to preserve and share with the world the beauty and value of these ancient structures. Popov has uniquely discovered and reinvigorated both the ancient tools and processes that can restore life to the wooden structures of the North.

Davies and Popov uncover the circumstances that led to the demise of the churches, and then join a small but growing group of passionate Russian citizens and outsiders from all walks of life who join the cause of SAVING NORTH. But it is an uphill battle against time and the powerful forces of nature and societal neglect.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; www.abamedia.com; +1 817-336-0777

Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia
A film by J. Mitchell Johnson

Director's Statement

I am an American filmmaker who has been living and working between the US and Russia for more than 25 years. Over this period I have made movies and created media projects about Russia. In 2009 I married my wife, who is a Russian citizen and prefers living in her homeland. That is why I began to spend significantly more time in Russia than elsewhere. We live together in Rostov-on-Don.

Eight years ago I was introduced by a business associate to the architect Alexander Popov, who was replicating an 1814 wooden windmill in Russia to be ultimately installed at Fort Ross State Historic Park north of San Francisco, California. I traveled to Mr. Popov's compound in Kirillov for the first time in May 2012. After that initial trip I kept filming him over the months, first in Russia and then in America where the windmill was installed. I became fascinated with Mr. Popov as a kind of person one rarely meets. I also discovered that he had restored some beautiful and ancient wooden churches in the Russian North that I greatly admire. I decided to follow his work.

After the windmill project was successfully realized and documented, I was back in Rostov-on-Don in February 2013, thinking about next steps for this. It was on a cold winter's day when I stumbled upon the website of the London-based architectural photographer Richard Davies and his book titled, "Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North." Suddenly I decided to simply call Mr. Davies and introduce myself.

Mr. Davies answered the phone in London, and I quickly introduced myself as an American filmmaker interested in Russian wooden architecture. Mr. Davies warmed up as I told him the story about my filming with Alexander Popov. It turned out that Mr. Davies had met and photographed with Mr. Popov on more than one occasion.

Towards the end of this telephone chat, Mr. Davies revealed that he would be mounting an exhibit of his photographs in a southern Russian city called Rostov-on-Don the very next month. The rest is history. Mr. Davies and I met and began to work together. During the period 2013 through 2017, I would film with Mr. Davies on his expeditions to the Russian North and in his studio in London.

"SAVING NORTH" was born with the help that coincidence often provides when life's purpose meets opportunity. Eight years after initial photography began, the film matured into its own substance and identity–after many twists, turns and flows of support from people who I will always remember and appreciate.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; abamedia.com; +1 817-336-0777

Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia
A film by J. Mitchell Johnson


J. Mitchell Johnson self-made "SAVING NORTH: Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia" as a labor of love over an 8-year period with the help and support of various colleagues in the USA, Russia and the UK. He was director, producer, cinematographer, writer and editor for the film.

About J. Mitchell Johnson

Johnson, worked for four-time documentary Academy Award winner Charles Guggenheim after finishing the cinema graduate program at the University of Southern California. Later he founded his own independent media companies, J. Mitchell Johnson Productions, Inc. and Abamedia.

Johnson's directorial debut was for the PBS documentary about the 1977 Van Cliburn Piano Competition, "Contest to Carnegie Hall." This award-winning piece ushered subsequent PBS/A&E projects including USA (now Sundance) Festival-winner "Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton."

His work with Russian subjects began in 1995 with a 22-part television series produced for Russia's Channel One, co-ventured with ABC News-New York. His interest in Russia inspired the year 2000 PBS prime-time Cold War television series, "Red Files," which won the International Documentary Association's "Best Limited Series" award.

Johnson's film, "World Without Waves," premiered at Moscow's International Film Festival in 2006 and won the Santa Fe Film Festival's Milagro Award (best Southwest independent film) that same year.

In 2012 Johnson began a new slate of independent documentaries with "SAVING NORTH." Films currently in production include "Remaining Human: Channeling Norbert Wiener" and "Coming Round: The Kashia Band of Pomo Struggle for Homeland."

Johnson is a past President of the Lone Star Film Festival. He serves on the board of San Francisco's TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy.

About Cinematographer Bob Elfstrom

Bob Elfstrom, who has earned a reputation for award-winning productions and cinematography, provided additional shooting in California for "SAVING NORTH." His impressive library of work has appeared on prime time television and the silver screen, including: "NOVA: The Race for the Superconductor" (Emmy Award winner); American Masters: "Finding Lucy" (Emmy –Best Documentary); NBC Prime Time Specials: "Bill Gates" (Tom Brokaw Special); Discovery Channel: "Cathedrals of the Sky"; Feature Films: "Gospel Road" (with Johnny Cash); Feature Documentaries for Maysles Films: "Gimme Shelter," "The Running Fence" and "The Wrapped Islands."

About Consulting Producer Dennis Bishop

Dennis Bishop has won numerous awards for motion picture productions in various media, served as vice president of production at HBO Pictures, and managed several companies in different industries. He has worked off and on with Johnson since 1982. Bishop has chaired committees at the Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was a resource advisor for the Sundance Institute, served as director and later advisor of the Lone Star International Film Festival and Film Society, and was a co-founder of Earthx Film Festival.

About Consulting Producer Denis Luzanov

Denis Luzanov is a Moscow-based film editor and producer with a long list of dramatic and documentary films under his belt. Most recently as a producer and co-producer, he has been responsible for Kerosine (2019), A Lifetime Ago (2018), and Turkish Saddle (2017). He is also the founder and owner of Tritona Studios in Moscow, a distributor and production facility specializing in fiction and non-fiction films. He has worked with Mr. Johnson on various projects since 2011.

About Consulting Producer Jonathan Sanders, Ph.D.

Jonathan Sanders is one of the West's leading experts on Russian film-based visual culture. He has written two books on the subject, "1917: The Unpublished Revolution" (NY: Abbeville Press, 1989) and, with Hedi Hollinger, "The Russians Emerge" (NY: Abbeville Press, 2002). Dr. Sanders has worked extensively on television news programs, specials, and documentaries, including consulting on the website component of the award-winning "Red Files" series, produced by J. Mitchell Johnson & Abamedia for PBS. He spent a decade as a Moscow-based CBS news correspondent.

About Executive Producer Mark Gunderson

As a sole practitioner for 35 years in Fort Worth, architect, writer, teacher and collector W. Mark Gunderson searches for insight and meaning in both the poetic
and technical aspects of our existence. He is a past president of both AIA Fort Worth and the Dallas Architectural Foundation and serves on the Advisory Board of the Dallas Architecture Forum, where for 9 years he was Vice-President / Panels and Symposia. Gunderson is a Contributing Editor to Texas Architect and a recipient of the John G. Flowers Award from the Texas Society of Architects. He is a Distinguished Alumnus of the Texas Tech University College of Architecture. A co-author to the book Buildings of Texas, Volume Two, he worked with Nathaniel Kahn on his 2001 Academy
Award-nominated documentary My Architect and has worked with longtime friend
J. Mitchell Johnson on A Well-Made Object, the Lone Star Film Society Bruton Award as well as Saving North.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; www.abamedia.com; +1 817-336-0777

Rescuing the Wooden Churches of Northern Russia
A film by J. Mitchell Johnson

Main Characters

Richard Davies

British architectural photographer Richard Davies has spent 10 years traveling in northern Russia in search of disappearing wooden churches for his acclaimed book of photos and essays, "Wooden Churches: Traveling in the Russian North," which he co-authored with Matilda Moreton in 2011. As a result, he has become well known for his obsession with Russian churches and the culture of northern Russia.

"The New York Times" and other global media publications have featured his story in newspapers, television, radio and magazine articles. Now, somewhat reluctantly, he finds himself in a new and unexpected role as one of the global spokespersons for a growing movement to keep the last of these disappearing churches alive.

Alexander Vladimirovich Popov

Born in 1951 in Moscow, Alexander Popov studied engineering before eventually finding his calling: architecture, building crafts and restoration of wooden monuments and other structures. Having graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute, he moved to Kirillov in the Arkhangelsk region of the Russian North. He began work as an architect and carpenter that specialized in the repair of wooden churches and monuments.

From 1981 to 1988, he and his team restored the church of Dmitry Solunsky in Uftyuga. He managed to rehabilitate the historical technologies and tools used to build the church in the 1780s. From these working methods of restoration, he developed a set of principles that became standards of restoration of monuments of wooden architecture. In 1991 he was awarded the State Prize -- restorer of the highest category, for his work.

Popov used those same standards in 2012 to replicate an 1841 wooden windmill for the 200thanniversary of Fort Ross, the Russian settlement in northern California. He led the manufacture of the wooden windmill in Kirillov and its reassembly for the bicentennial celebration at Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Father Alexei Yakolev, founder of Obshee Delo

The Russian Orthodox priest, Father Alexei Yakolev, is the founder of the nonprofit group called Obshee Delo, which, when translated into English, means "common cause." The cause is to save and pass on to posterity the wooden temples and monuments of the Russian North. Obshee Delo's main objective is to support the revival of the wooden churches by uniting caring people seeking to preserve the ancient shrines of Orthodoxy and monuments of wooden architecture.

Accordingly, each summer Obshee Delo trains volunteers to carry out emergency operations such as repairing roofs, fixing broken windows, and replacing rotten crowns in foundations. Without this fundamental work, many of these wooden shrines will soon collapse and disappear, just as have the hundreds of northern temples that have tragically vanished.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; www.abamedia.com; 817-821-3504

Supporting Characters in Order of Appearance

Evgeny Khodakovsky - St. Petersburg, Russia

Evgeny Khodakovsky is a Head of the Department of Russian Art History, St. Petersburg State University. He studies and teaches Russian and European wooden architecture and organises the research expeditions to the Russian North. Since 2015 he had published several books on this subject (also in English), showing the Russian wooden architecture to be the essential part of the world heritage.

Keith Alward - Berkeley, California, USA

Keith Alward is the Founder of Alward Construction, a widely recognized Berkeley California firm with a 41-year history. The firm grew directly from home repairs and renovations for friends starting shortly after completing a Ph.D. in theoretical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. His many years of construction experience throughout his youth and young adulthood made this transition possible. Keith continues to publish and give papers in his field.

Keith and his firm were selected to install a replica of a 200-year-old Russian pole windmill at Fort Ross, a California State Park featuring the 208-year-old Russian Fort on the California Sonoma coast. He was chosen because of his reputation for historic restoration and the ability to meet unique building challenges. One of his earlier projects was the restoration of a San Francisco 19th century church with Page and Turnbull Architecture, the local architects for the Fort Ross project.

Daryl-Ann Hardman - London, England

Daryl-Ann Hardman is a qualified interpreter who has been active for over 40 years in British-Russian cultural and educational links. For the last 30 years she has managed charitable projects in Russia and Belarus.

Lubov Vikulova - Lyadini, Russia

Lubov Vikulova is a café owner and church key holder in Lyadini, Russia.

Alexei Sioutine - Bergen, Norway

Alexei Sioutine was born in 1974 in Petrozavodsk, Russia to parents with roots in the Russia, North. His father came from the White Sea town of Sumskij Posad, and his mother from Turchasovo on the river Onega.

After finishing high school in 1992, Alexei entered Petrozavodsk State University. In 1995 he received his bachelor's degree at the Mikkeli Polytechnic Institute of Technology in Finland. In 1997 he was invited to the international Masters Program in System Dynamics at the University of Bergen, Norway. Thereafter he worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Informatics and Mathematical Modelling at the Russian Academy of Science Research Center in Apatity, Russia. He received there his PhD in technical science in 2004.

In 2005 Alexei started regular trips to Turchasovo where he got involved with reviving the parish live of the local community and attempts to save the church of Transfiguration. At the same time he started to collect information and photo documents related to the history of the churches and parish in Turchasovo. That resulted in diploma work entitled, "The History of the Parish of Transfiguration Church in Turchasovo" as a final part of Alexei's education at the St. Tikhon Theology University.

Alexei now works and lives in Bergen, Norway, but also regularly visits Turchasovo where he supports the local community and the various efforts to restore and maintain the churches there.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; www.abamedia.com; 817-821-3504


Content and Fiscal Partner

Fort Ross Conservancy (FRC) is a 501(c)(3) California non-profit association founded in 1976. A grassroots community organization, the Conservancy is dedicated to (1) keeping Fort Ross and Salt Point State Parks open and accessible; (2) expanding interpretive, volunteer, educational and event programming; (3) increasing historical connections to the land through research, library, and archival expansion; (4) providing stewardship for Fort Ross and nearby parks' accessible public lands and historic buildings; and (5) serving as a link between California State Parks and our broader local and international communities. Toward these ends, the Conservancy organizes activities such as the annual Fort Ross Dialogue, where Americans and Russians meet in a constructive atmosphere to encourage conversation and scientific and historical collaboration. The Conservancy's sponsorship of Saving North is yet another effort to encourage dialogue and understanding about Fort Ross and surrounding regions, its peoples and its legacy by making those insights available to a national audience.

The Saving North Project Director is the CEO of Fort Ross Conservancy, Sarah Sweedler. Sarah volunteered on the FRC board of directors for eight years before joining its staff. Prior to her transition to not-for-profit work, she worked for several decades as a high-tech independent writing consultant and freelance journalist focusing on natural and cultural history. Sarah serves on the Advisory Council of the Eurasia Foundation, as a director of CALPA (California League of Park Associations), and as a NOAA Beach Watch volunteer.

J. Mitchell Johnson, [email protected]; www.abamedia.com; 817-821-3504

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